Taxi shutdown fears

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Margaret River Taxis operator Lester George says a lack of drivers could see his service falter.
Camera IconMargaret River Taxis operator Lester George says a lack of drivers could see his service falter. Credit: Warren Hately

Margaret River Taxis boss Lester George has warned his service is about to fold without more drivers willing to work, blaming the allure of Federal JobSeeker payments.

Mr George told the Times there were not enough drivers to meet demand, visitors and residents were being left unattended, and he had cut back availability on Monday-Wednesday nights to avoid burnout.

“It’s chronic,” he said.

“I’m down to virtually one night-time driver coming up and two on day shifts and that’s it.

“I’m 70 years old and I’m at the end of my tether — seven days per week and 12 hours on average plus the occasional double shift.”

Mr George believed a boost to unemployment benefits from JobSeeker was keeping drivers from seeking work.

“They’re all getting the extra money per fortnight, so why would they want to drive taxis?” he said. His comments were echoed by figures in the hospitality, vineyard, cleaning and accommodation sectors.

Adding to the problem were lengthy wait times for potential drivers to clear the Department of Transport licensing process, with keen workers bailing before the eight-week timeline.

Mr George said he had spoken with the department to no avail and said the service would shut if more drivers weren’t available.

“I’m just burning myself out and killing myself for nothing,” Mr George said.

Taz’s Taxis operator Rob Simons said he continued running three cabs from 4pm daily, but JobSeeker was also affecting recruitment.

A DoT spokesperson said it was the company’s responsibility to attract drivers.

“DoT has not received feedback that Federal Government JobSeeker or JobKeeper initiatives have impacted driver shortages, but does from time to time get feedback about difficulties taxi operators have finding drivers in some areas, and has done for several years,” the department said.

The DoT has introduced reforms since 2018 which included removal of restrictions for country operators, and the WA Government offered a $3 million COVID-19 relief package for “the on-demand transport industry” in April.

Margaret River-Busselton Tourism Association co-chief executive Sharna Kearney said tourists were likely to be caught out without a viable taxi service.

“One of the reasons businesses are finding it difficult to secure staff at the moment is the current pattern of visitation, which sees visitor numbers peak at weekends, and subside mid-week,” she said.

“This pattern of visitation means the weekly hours of work available may fall below JobSeeker payments.”

Margaret River police Sgt Luke Fowler was concerned about any decrease in taxi options for revellers otherwise tempted to drink-drive.

“It will have a follow-up effect,” he told the Times.

Sgt Fowler said without any viable ride-share apps in the region, punters could be left stranded. “We need the taxis,” he said. “We encourage people to use the taxis if they’ve been drinking. The cost of a taxi is nothing compared to the cost of court fines.”

Willing drivers can contact Mr George on 0400 922 743.

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